Maggie O'Sullivan : states of transformation

Thurston, S ORCID: 2011, 'Maggie O'Sullivan : states of transformation' , in: The Salt Companion to Maggie O'Sullivan , Salt Companions , Salt Publishing.

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Maggie O’Sullivan’s work has often been linked to the concept of shamanism, through her works’ own declared interest in it as well as by commentators. Nevertheless the application of this concept constructs a view of the work as somewhat ‘othered’ in a way that might undermine a fully-politicised and contextualised reading of her poetry.

This essay begins with a reading of the poem ‘Busk, Pierce’ from States of Emergency (1987) as a staging post for these concerns. Offering a close-reading of the text, taking into account the key features of O’Sullivan’s style (complex visual layout, sonic and rhythmic complexity, semantic density and use of neologism), the reading leads to a consideration of the collaged inclusion of a diagram from Claude Levi-Strauss’ structuralist work on myth from his work Structural Anthropology. Speculating on the significance of this figure in the text the essay shifts to a discussion of Levi-Strauss’ work on shamanism, crucially suggesting that O’Sullivan’s use of language may be seen as an attempt to redirect the thought of both reader and writer by giving expression to ‘states of emergency’: emotional experiences of alienating circumstances. It is this function that, the piece argues, gives O’Sullivan’s work its political charge.

The essay also considers O’Sullivan’s poetics within the context of the British reception of North American Language Poetry, proposing a link in the relationship between language use and politics proposed by some members of that movement and O’Sullivan’s work. The article uses EXCLA (1993) – O’Sullivan’s collaboration with Language poet Bruce Andrews – as a focus for these concerns, using comments O’Sullivan made in an interview conducted with the author in 1999. It will be argued, through close reading, that this collaboration demonstrates a direct identification between the poetics of Language Poetry and that of British Linguistically Innovative Poetry; illuminating the concerns of both writers, and, by extension, the contexts from which they emerge. The piece also reflects on O’Sullivan’s poetics text ‘riverrunning (realisations’, dedicated to Language Poet Charles Bernstein.

Item Type: Book Section
Editors: Hamilton-Emery, C
Themes: Subjects / Themes > P Language and Literature > PE English
Memory, Text and Place
Schools: Schools > School of Humanities, Languages & Social Sciences > Centre for English Literature and Language
Publisher: Salt Publishing
Refereed: Yes
Series Name: Salt Companions
ISBN: 9781876857738
Depositing User: Dr Scott Thurston
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2010 14:24
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2022 09:08
References: Andrews, B. 1986. ‘Total Equals What: Poetics & Praxis’ in Poetics Journal 6, 48-61 Andrews, B. and O’Sullivan, M. 1993. EXCLA. London: Writers Forum Andrews, B. 1996. Paradise & Method: Poetics & Praxis. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press Clarke, A. 1998. Millennial Shades & Three Papers. London: Writers Forum Hawkes, T. (1977), 1992. Structuralism and Semiotics. London: Routledge Kuspit, D. 1995. ‘Joseph Beuys: Between Showman and Shaman’ in Joseph Beuys: Diverging Critiques, ed. by David Thistlewood. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press and Tate Gallery Liverpool, pp. 27-49 Lévi-Strauss, C. 1968. Structural Anthropology, trans. by Jacobsen, C. and Grundfest Schoepf, B. London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press Middleton, P. 1998. ‘The Contemporary Poetry Reading’ in Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word, ed. by Bernstein, C. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 262-299 O’Sullivan, M. 1987. States Of Emergency. Oxford: ICPA O’Sullivan, M. 1993. In the House of the Shaman. London: Reality Street O’Sullivan, M. 1995. ‘riverrunning (realisations’ in West Coast Line no. 2 vol. 29, 62-71 O’Sullivan, M. 1998. Untitled statement in Word Score Utterance Choreography in Verbal and Visual Poetry, ed. by Cobbing, B. and Upton, L. London: Writers Forum O’Sullivan, M. and Thurston, S. 1999. ‘Emerging States’ in Poetry Salzburg Review 6 (Spring 2004), 6-20 Sheppard, R. 1998. Far Language: Poetics and Linguistically Innovative Poetry 1978-1997. Exeter: Stride

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